Jonny Wilkinson hobbled out of a thrilling Amlin Challenge Cup final with a suspected broken rib as Cardiff Blues defied the odds in Marseilles yesterday. Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and Bradley Davies all crossed in an impressive second-half comeback as the Blues overturned a 13-6 half-time deficit.
However, Wilkinson was optimistic afterwards that the injury was not as bad as at first feared. "I don't think I have broken a rib but you never know given my injury record," he said. "In my experience you just have to look on the bright side and get on with it. It feels to me like a strain, so I'm reasonably optimistic as far as England goes." Martin Johnson's England squad are due to tour Australia and New Zealand this summer.
Dai Young, the Blues coach, praised his team for keeping their heads to deliver a first European title for Wales and even secure an extra place for his country in next season's Heineken Cup, to be taken by neighbours Scarlets at the expense of Gloucester.
"It was a courageous performance after they had us on the rack for long periods. There were times in the first half when we were hanging on by our toe nails but the Cardiff team simply didn't want to lose," Young said.
"Wilkinson's injury was a turning point for them. He was certainly causing us problems but they lost their shape when he went off. We were able to pressurise them and he wasn't there to relieve the pressure."
Wilkinson gingerly left the fray early in the second half. Having received treatment following a heavy tackle by Cardiff lock Deiniol Jones, Wilkinson slumped to the ground as he kicked a penalty, that sailed wide, on 46 minutes. He must now wait for a scan tomorrow that will determine whether he tours with England.
Philippe Saint-André, the Toulon coach, said: "Jonny took a bang and felt he couldn't kick as he took the penalty. We don't know yet if it just bruising or a broken rib. He will have a medical test though he will have to wait until Tuesday because no one works here in France on Bank Holiday."
Wilkinson's departure heralded a dramatic change in fortunes for Cardiff as Toulon looked rudderless in the face of their opponent's resilient defence.
For reasons better understood by Saint-André, Toulon cast aside their usual structured approach and tried to beat Cardiff out wide, a ploy that looked to have played into Welsh hands until Sonny Bill Williams scored just before half-time.
But once Wilkinson departed, Cardiff grew in belief and were back on level terms within four minutes after Xavier Rush and Martyn Williams allowed British Lions centre Roberts to crash through for a trademark try.
Ben Blair and Tom May exchanged penalties before Cardiff seized the game with two tries in the space of four minutes. Roberts and Casey Laulala set up Halfpenny before Davies dived in from close range. Tana Umaga stepped off the bench to set up a late score but Cardiff had done enough by then to secure the trophy.
Scorers: Cardiff: Tries Roberts, Halfpenny, B Davies; Conversions Blair 2; Penalties: Blair 3; Toulon: Tries Williams, Sourice; Conversion Wilkinson; Penalties: Wilkinson 2, May.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; L Halfpenny, C Laulala (D Hewitt, 78), J Roberts, C Czekaj; C Sweeney, R Rees; G Jenkins (capt, J Yapp, H-T), R Thomas (G Williams, 45), T Filise (S Andrews, 56), D Jones (P Tito, 50), B Davies, M Molitika (S Warburton, 60), X Rush, M Williams.
Toulon: C Marienval; G Lovobalavu, T May, S Williams, J Sinzelle (T Umaga, 67); J Wilkinson (M Kefu, 46), M Henjak (P Mignoni, 56); S Taumoepeau (L Emmanuelli, 56), P Fitzgerald (S Bruno, 34-40, 56), D Kubriashvili (T Ryan, H-T), E Lozada (J Suta, 51), R Skeate, J van Niekerk (capt), F Auelua (T Sourice, 65), J Fernandez Lobbe.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).